Concerto pour violon, op.61 / Gil Shaham, violon - Orchestre Symphonique de Chicago - David Zinman, direction
Chosen as one of the 10 Classical Albums that mattered in 2008: Two musicians with deep ties to the Aspen Music Festival join forces for this live recording, making a persuasive case that this lesser- known sibling to Edward Elgar's ubiquitous Cello Concerto deserves enhanced stature.
In peak form, with typically responsive phrasing and fetching, natural tone, Shaham receives forceful backing from Zinman and the orchestra. He commands immediate attention, delivering his opening entrance with deliberate understatement, and a sense of questioning -- Denver Post, Kyle MacMillan, December 2008
Shaham's playing on this album is so supremely gorgeous--better than on any other I've heard--that I hate the very thought of criticizing this recording. But I must.
In the first movement I felt like I was listening to Zinman analyze it rather than feel it. The balances are exquisite, revealing details I never knew were there. But the orchestral style initially is so legato, so civilized that it's what I call American-generic--the way Leonard Slatkin or André Previn sound when they're least inspired. Above all, Shaham and Zinman change tempos so often and so radically (precious here, dramatic there) that they destroy the form of the movement.
This album (recorded February 2007 at performances in Orchestra Hall) also has the richest, most vibrant, balanced sound you're likely to get from this dry venue, where the microphones have "the best seat". But there's one glaring sound problem, and I think the culprit is mastering engineer Da-Hong Seetoo, not recording engineer Christopher Willis: it sounds like Seetoo went through the score, marked every single passage where the violin is playing, and reduced the orchestra to a twodimensional "background" ambience with rather flat dynamic range. (This surely isn't Zinman's doing--for glaring proof try I at 6:30 or III at 4:53.) What a pity! In purely orchestral passages the sound envelops you; when the violin plays, you reach for the volume knob but still can't get a matching orchestral sound.
This is particularly frustrating in the first movement, because the orchestral writing here is richer and more dynamic than in II and III.
Now that I've gotten that off my chest, I hasten to say that Shaham and Zinman have far better flow and form in II--probably because it's not written in as convoluted a style as I. In fact, II is extremely satisfying, partly because Zinman finally seems to have gotten caught up in emotion rather than analysis. As the excellent liner notes say about this movement, "The orchestra and soloist commune together in music that Elgar described as `where two souls merge and melt into one another'."
III is utterly exquisite. No mere analysis here! The flow and form are complete, and the long cadenza at the end is worth the entire recording. Though I wish Seetoo had goosed its shimmering orchestral underpinnings just a bit more, the sound is good enough as Shaham turns in the most exquisite, rapturous, technically perfect, and (may I say) exotically beautiful cadenza (with the widest-ranged, most awesome portamento) I've ever heard in this music.
For the complete experience, I still refer to Menuhin/Boult on EMI, though Sitkovetsky's recording with Menuhin conducting on Virgin is where I go for total rapture -- American Record Guide, Gil French, May/June 2009
Top customer reviews
There was a problem filtering reviews right now. Please try again later.
One quibble - the recording quality is ok for live, but I've heard much better (see Mutter or Bell's live Tchaikovsky recordings). I've noticed a quality difference in Gil's early recordings under Canary Classics (Naxos), but it has fortunately come back up to par in his most recent albums, like the Bach S&P. He is one violinist who is great whether in HD or a fuzzy YouTube video, so don't let the label stop you from listening.
The opening has all the combined drive and splendour that this work demands and which makes the eventual calm entry of the soloist so breathtakingly effective. Throughout this performance one must recognise and applaud the considerable contribution of both David Zinman, the conductor, and the individual and corporate musicians of the Chicago orchestra. To say that they play this very English music as if born English is to pay the them the greatest complement as the subtleties of the idiom can so often be elusive.
The concerto, as is well understood, is a unique blend of the intimate and the public. The public nature of the piece is the easiest to convey with all its sweeping gestures of grandeur. The intimate parts, and there are many, are far more difficult to convey and require great sensitivity coupled with the ability to play in a world of suggestion, half shades and musical whispers. This blend is wonderfully conveyed by Gil Shaham.
There are now a great many fine versions of this concerto to consider buying. This disc stands out by not having any extra music to offer. It also stands out for its fleet duration of about 48.5 minutes, an indication of its natural sense of performance flow. I would suggest that it it easy to buy excellent copies of the music most regularly coupled with this concerto. What is not so easy to purchase is a performance of equal empathy and technical skill combined.
It would be unwise to list any one disc as being the best or the definitive version, but I would suggest that this disc certainly earns its place amongst the very best few. Followers of this concerto are likely to own several versions as it is compulsively attractive to collectors. This version deserves to be included.
The concerto was written for and premièred by Fritz Kreisler. It has been championed by such violin luminaries as Eugène Ysaÿe, Albert Sammons, Yehudi Menuhin, Itzhak Perlman and more recently by Nigel Kennedy, who has recorded it twice. My own favorite is Kennedy's first recording with Vernon Handley and the London Philharmonic. Kennedy's and Handley's way with the glorious slow movement is one of my desert island picks. And although I very much like this recording by Shaham, my vote still goes to the earlier Kennedy.
Shaham's playing is always marked by sweetness of tone and cleanness of line. He is perhaps not quite as emotional as some in this work, but there is sufficient tenderness and drama for this late Edwardian work. There is both eloquence and esprit in the outer movements. That magnificent middle movement is played as if it were chamber music, perfect for the inwardness of this most intimate of Elgarian works. The fearsome virtuosic elements of the finale are managed without any hint of strain and the reverie of the accompanied cadenza is aptly judged and quite effective. The coda reminds us again of the Andante and of the first movement's opening bars -- played 'lento, espressivo, nobilmente' -- and then the concerto suddenly comes to a brilliant swift conclusion.
This is a much more than creditable performance of this great concerto and is worthy of consideration. All the participants are in very good form here. The disc is a bit short, timewise, clocking in at 48:30, but its mid-price takes this into consideration. Sound is quite good. Booklet notes are by Andrew Neill, a former president of the Elgar Society, and are very helpful. And, something I always applaud, the booklet also lists all the members of the Chicago Symphony.